This is the second half of an interview with Diamondbacks assistant GM Jared Porter, conducted by MLBTR contributor Brett Ballantini. Click here to read Part 1.
In the second part of the conversation, Porter addresses the intricacies of his job, including his go-to stats, and taking the “macro” view on the Diamondbacks’ future:
You were with the Cubs when the Diamondbacks traded for Shelby Miller, which from the jump seemed a significant overpay by Arizona. What was your impression?
It’s impossible for me to weigh in heavily due to the fact that I wasn’t here and don’t know all of the circumstances surrounding the trade. With that said, we are really excited to have a pitcher of Shelby Miller’s quality in our rotation. It’s been great getting to know Shelby as a person over the course of the last month or so and has been exciting to watch him feature such explosive stuff in his first two spring outings. He’s in impeccable physical shape and has a great mindset heading into the season. We’re lucky to have Shelby on the Diamondbacks.
Analytics is a rabbit hole that ultimately yields greater and greater understanding of the game. We’re so far from sheer batting average or pitching wins now, we can never go back. But clearly, each front office doesn’t just have a Baseball-Reference stock ticker of WAR numbers that steers evaluation. There are nuances wrapped in projections inside of data. Even among your own equfront office, with a relatively flat hierarchy, each of you must have your own pet data or go-to projections. If you can give me the Shake n’ Bake without revealing its flavor, what is your go-to stat?
Great question. I don’t think I have a “go-to stat,” but what I like the most is the data that helps prove things that are hard for our eyes to see or that can be hard to gauge within a scouting report. Player evaluation is so tough, even for the best evaluators, that any advantages we can find and use are so important.
For me, I’ve really been gravitating towards run prevention data lately. Some examples of this are PITCHf/x data (movement qualities of the pitch), pitch results data (how a pitcher’s stuff impacts the way hitters put balls into play) and pitch sequencing data (how a pitcher uses his pitches); defensive data and defensive positioning data; and catcher defense analysis.
One area that tends to get over-reported is catcher framing. While I’m a firm believer in the value of catcher framing and the impact it makes, the story often stops with catcher framing data and not enough attention is paid to the importance of game-calling and game leadership when it comes to evaluating catchers. A big part of a pitcher’s conviction in the stuff he’s throwing has to do with how the game is called and led behind the plate.
Your most significant trade of the offseason sent Jean Segura to the Seattle Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte. Was that a matter of selling high on Segura, buying low on Walker, or a little bit of both?
We’re really excited to have Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte in Diamondbacks uniforms right now. We gave up a very talented and well-rounded impact player in Jean Segura as the centerpiece of the deal for Seattle, but continuing to add young, controllable, high-ceiling players like Taijuan and Ketel will make our talent pool deeper and more sustainable from a macro viewpoint.
Taijuan is a pitcher who all three organizations I’ve worked for have tried to acquire over the last two or three years. Getting to know him a bit over the course of the last month has given us a lot of confidence in the person he is. He wants to be great, and he wants to win. We’re very excited to have such a talented athlete in our program.
You have an exhausting number of responsibilities, overseeing player personnel, baseball operations, and the medical staff. But arguably your more significant responsibility with Arizona is in pro scouting. I’m guessing that amateur scouting—confirming blue chips or uncovering hidden treasure—is significantly different from pro scouting, where we imagine a half-dozen guys with radar guns trying to pick the bones of this summer’s early rebuilders. How do the roles of amateur and pro scouts differ?
The nature of all scouting is the same: Consistently beat other teams by evaluating and recommending talented, championship-caliber players for your organization. The types of scouting that I have the most significant responsibility for within Arizona are professional (other teams’ minor league players, and the independent leagues), major league (other teams’ major league players, and advance scouting), and international professional (typically NPB, KBO, and Cuban players who don’t fall under the amateur cap).
There are a few major differences between amateur and professional scouting that stand out. Every year there is a draft, so it’s a fact that an enormous pool of amateur players will be selected and signed to play professional baseball every June. For this reason, there’s a culminating point in every draft cycle. We don’t have as much information on amateur players. Although the information available is growing at an astonishing rate, there still isn’t as much information available in comparison to professional players. We haven’t had the opportunity to see amateur players compete against their professional peers on a daily basis yet, so the accuracy of evaluations is more volatile and higher risk. It becomes critical to mitigate the risk as much as you can while continuing to maximize the upside and the potential impact of players you’re bringing in.
On the professional and major league side, we have significantly more information, but oftentimes the assets you’re giving up in player or financial capital are so great that it makes the margin for error within these decisions minuscule. Also, the player pool to select from is more finite. Professional scouting is more of an ongoing process with regards to acquisition. Although there are a few big dates, like the Trade Deadline or Winter Meetings, the professional player acquisition period is literally 365 days a year, because a transaction can happen at any time.
Which scouting is a greater challenge, or more fun?
The best way for me to describe it is that it’s all awesome, and it’s all really challenging. You can never learn enough about player evaluation with regards to organizational building and roster construction.
You have inherited a Diamondbacks team that seems a given to put 69 wins in the rearview mirror, with not just superstars like Zack Greinke, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, but quite a few budding stars as well. Obviously, you’ve got a long-term vision of remaking the team, but how jazzed are you regarding your immediate, 2017 prospects?
We’re all very excited about the talent on our 40-man roster and certainly feel fortunate to inherit so many talented and athletic players with high ceilings. [Rookie manager] Torey Lovullo has set a great tone in camp, with everyone being part of a unified group headed in the same, positive direction. It’s been a point of emphasis for us this offseason to put a well-rounded, versatile, and deep group of major league players together going into the season. It’s still roughly a month to go before Opening Day, but so far, so good. Personally, I’ve enjoyed getting to know our players better as competitors and people, and am excited to continue to do so.
I asked Dave Stewart this question last year, and for all his intensity and aggressiveness, he surprised me with a muted answer. With specific regard to making an offer to a guy like [ex-Los Angeles Dodger] Greinke, is there any additional incentive beyond what he can do for the Diamondbacks—does taking a valuable player away from a direct rival color your decision-making at all? Or, asked another way, are the battles for wins fought exclusively between the lines, or can a front-office guy steal a couple of wins for the team and contribute the same value as a hitter with a knack for a game-winning RBI?
No, I don’t see it this way at all. It’s our job to help build a sustainable, deep, and well-rounded Diamondbacks team regardless of what other teams in our division are doing. If we do that, it doesn’t matter what other teams are doing because we’ll be able to provide Torey and our coaching staff with the necessary weapons to navigate a 162-game schedule, and hopefully more.
There is some nuance within the season with regards to matchups, maybe stocking your bullpen with a certain type of reliever for a series or two, picking the right time to spot start a guy, or adding a bat that might match up well for a certain stretch. But when it comes to the macro decisions, we have to constantly focus on making our team better and not worry about the others.
Fortunately, this is something I was able to see first-hand in Boston when I was younger due to the incredible depth and talent in the AL East at the time. I never saw Theo give in to any pressures that might have been there to match our division rivals, and I feel that as a result our internal player pool was always deep and sustainable, with great young players ready to make an impact at the major league level.
You were hired by the Red Sox in 2004 and, poof, there goes an 86-year Curse of the Bambino. The Cubs snapped you up in 2016 and, boom, the longest streak in the history of pro sports, 108 years without a title, is gone. Every time you join a new team, they win a World Series. Arizona’s drought of 15 seasons is slightly less dramatic than what you’ve conquered already. So, pressure’s on, are you going to make it three-for-three?
I wish it were that easy. I’ve been fortunate to work around great people and for teams with great players in Boston and Chicago. My hunch tells me that it’s been more about the players than me being a curse breaker! We’ll chalk it up to good timing.
With that said, we have a talented group here in Arizona and we are working daily to create the culture both in the office and in the clubhouse through Torey that we’ve seen lead to sustainable success in Boston and Chicago.
Follow Brett Ballantini on Twitter @PoetryinPros